Before the Flyers shipped up to Boston on Oct. 25, Ron Hextall addressed the state of his team, and buried in a practice notebook on the team's official website was this nugget:
“Visually, our penalty killing has been better. It’s been a lot better than last year. Now, the numbers obviously don’t show that, so there’s an issue there.”
There is "visually" and "reality," and in reality, the Flyers' penalty kill simply has not been good. The Flyers on Thursday night allowed a power-play goal for the ninth straight game in their character 5-4 overtime win over the Arizona Coyotes (see observations).
The last time they allowed a PPG in nine straight games was in 1993-94 when they did it twice: in 10 straight games (Nov. 6-24, 1993) and 12 straight (Dec. 28, 1993-Jan. 30, 1994).
Thursday's win was a mixed bag, and we should harp on the positives.
• They came out ready to play, scoring two goals in the first seven minutes.
• After a brutal stretch that saw Arizona score four straight goals, including two shorthanded markers on the same power play, Dave Hakstol made a goalie change and called a timeout.
• Coming off a brutal second period, the Flyers came out ready to fight in the third.
These are all qualities the Flyers lacked before their trip out West and it was an encouraging start to an important five-game homestand that continues Saturday against the Blackhawks.
But the Flyers' struggles on the PK have become normalized. It's almost expected that the Flyers will surrender a goal when they're penalized. It's hard not to expect doom.
The real problem is, it's been this way for a long time too, ever since Ian Laperriere took over as an assistant coach in 2013-14.
Let's break down the Flyers' PK percentages since 2013-14:
2013-14: 84.81 percent
2014-15: 77.07 percent
2015-16: 80.53 percent
2016-17: 79.76 percent
2017-18: 75.78 percent
2018-19 (16 games): 68.42 percent
In Laperriere's first season, the Flyers' PK percentage was at a respectable clip, finishing seventh in the NHL. Every year since it's been mediocre.
The blame in the past has fallen on the personnel and Hextall, without naming him, even singled out goalie Steve Mason.
"Your best penalty killer is your goalie," Hextall told NHL.com's Adam Kimelman on Feb. 2, 2018. "Well, our goalies I don't think necessarily have been at fault. Last year, I thought our goaltending on the PK was not very good."
Mason's gone and the Flyers' PK (and goalie situation) remains an issue. In fact, both Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth had a worse PK save percentage last season than Mason had in 2016-17.
That said, the Flyers' PK save percentage has been a long-lasting issue. It hasn't been very good. But neither has the play in front of the goalies either.
Last February, Hextall did place blame on both the personnel and structure, and he should. At the end of the day, he's the one in charge of putting together the roster. Personnel falls on him.
The structure falls on the coaching staff, and for whatever reason, under Laperriere's tutelage, the Flyers have not found a successful formula on the PK.
A successful Flyers penalty kill looks a little something like this: Win a faceoff, immediately clear the zone, pray the goalie makes every save.
The Flyers simply cannot survive once their opponent sets up shop on a power play.
It's beyond time to start talking about the man in charge.
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